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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sometimes, you just gotta trust your gut

Today's Guest Post comes from a California teacher that many may recognize -- Ms. Teacher! Her post is a bit heavier than the usual fare here at Learn Me Good, but it's a powerful example of how teachers just need to go with their instinct sometimes. __________________________________________________________________ At the end of the school year last year, I received word that I would be teaching GATE students. Much of my summer I spent reworking my lesson plans in ways that I hoped would be engaging and challenging to my new crop of incredibly smart students. I eagerly awaited the first day of school and the many challenges that came with teaching incredibly intelligent kids.

For the most part, the first few months of this school year have been relatively easy in the sense that my GATE students are able to grasp concepts that often beyond the other students that I teach this year. Many of these students have told me that they have really enjoyed school this year and enjoy being in my class. I figure I must be doing something right!

One of my students, Sara, is a quiet, but has always participated in classroom discussions. She is highly creative, writing a lot of poetry and drawing pictures in her notebooks. Truthfully, she has been one of my favorite students because she reminds me a lot of my daughter. This student did really well in my class the first quarter, earning A's and B's in her classes. Even though quiet, she is not what one might consider to be withdrawn or standoffish. She possesses a quiet strength, just like my daughter.

At the start of the 2nd quarter, Sara seemed to be on track to earning the same grades as the first quarter. She continued to be an active participant in classroom discussions, raising her hand when needed and doing her assignments.

In November, something changed.

All of a sudden, Sara stopped doing her work. However, I wasn't really aware of this because my students do the majority of their work in notebooks, which are collected every couple of weeks. When I checked her notebook, I was stunned to see that the majority of her work was either not done or incomplete. Other work that I collect on an on-going basis was also not completed. When I talked to her about it, she would just kind of shrug her shoulders and tell me that she forgot it at home. When I talked to her other teachers, they confirmed that she was also not performing as well in their classes. I had also noticed changes in her classroom participation. Once active in classroom discussions, she now seemed averse to any participation at all.

One day, I pulled her aside to talk to her. I expressed to her my concern about her grades. She was reluctant to meet my gaze. As I talked, I quickly noticed that the quiet strength that so much reminded me of my daughter wasn't there. Instead, I was faced with a student who was withdrawn and depressed. I asked her if she okay, really okay and she assured me that she was. She told me she had a lot on her mind and that she would try to do better.

She seemed to be doing a bit better in my classes, but she still was not the same girl that had been in my classroom at the start of the year. One thing to keep in mind that in the school district where I teach, we no longer have counselors in our middle schools. Our school psychiatrist is only at our school site one day out of the week. I would talk to her to check in on her, but still there was this little nagging voice that told me something was not right.

While she did manage to pass my class that cannot be said for her other classes. She ended up failing two of those, stumbling from an A to an F in both. As far as I know, neither one of her other teachers had the same conversations that I did because they knew that I was trying to keep tabs on her.

When we returned from the holiday break, it was decided that a parent conference was needed. At the conference, we went over grades, missing work and lack of participation (participation is not graded). We expressed our concerns and her parents told that they would see what they could do. The conference wrapped up after about 30 minutes. I returned to my classroom to prep for the next day, but was quickly interrupted by my telephone ringing. I saw that it was one of Sara's other teachers as I answered the phone. My colleague informed me that in November, Sara experienced two very traumatic events, the first the loss of a close family and the other, a sexual assault. Sara was in counseling. Her parents returned to my colleague's classroom just moments after I had left (his classroom is closer).

It suddenly all made sense. How could this young girl, a child of only 11 be expected to focus on school work when it seemed as if her world was shattering? That little nagging voice, that gut instinct that was telling me that SOMETHING WAS WRONG had been right all along. Looking back, I wish that I had picked up the phone in December to talk to her parents. While they may not have been willing to say exactly what was wrong, they surely would have given me some type of confirmation as to what I was feeling.

Like I said at my own blog, I may not have been able to be there for Sara in November, I will be there for her now. Finally, I learned that I really need to trust my instinct. Students usually don't make such a dramatic change in behavior unless something is going on. It is up to me to figure out what that is and how I can help my student be successful despite those life challenges. __________________________________________________________________

7 comments:

margaret said...

I wish parents would realize that traumas like those Sara endured DO have an effect on children and would be more pro-active in giving their teachers a heads-up. I do understand that they could have been too grief-stricken themselves to think about warning anyone about the family loss, but to let the assault go unremarked????!!!! There's privacy and then there's need-to-know...this is just as important as food allergies!

Melissa B. said...

It's hard for anyone to shoulder such burdens, but for a young woman to have to go through either one, not to mention both, of these events is a crime. Thank you, Ms. Teacher, for a heartfelt tale.

ms-teacher said...

Thank you for hosting this for me this week. I'll add a link here tomorrow!

Also I love the comments.

Priest said...

Go easy on yourself, Ms. Teacher. No one is spot on 100% of the time. You have shown yourself to be a decent, caring, and concerned Human Being.

You are to be commended for persevering and eventually uncovering the truth of a very disturbing matter. More than anything, you have set yourself firmly in the Child's camp and stand tall as a pillar of support. I salute you.

Priest said...

Melissa B. said: "... but for a young woman to have to go through either one ..."

I beg to differ with you Melissa. She is NOT a young Woman ... she is a CHILD and there is one hell of a difference. No Child is prepared for, or has the requisite life experience necessary for, dealing with the hardships that poor little Girl is facing.

We need to quit projecting Adulthood onto Children and come to grips with the fact that Children are sacrosanct and require – demand - deserve, the utmost of care and shown the most gentle of behaviors. Children are beyond mere precious; they are the living manifestation of the future and in a very real sense of the word, Children are Sacred.

As for Adults, suck it up and drive on as the time of holding up the weight of the World is upon us.

Ms. George said...

Thank you for sharing, Ms. Teacher and don't think about what might have been except to realize that you won't let it happen again, which you have done, beautifully.

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